Since I began my doctoral career, I have been involved in research examining the effects of game design on learning. Games are clearly a hot topic in education, yet opponents often criticize them as being either a waste of time, a distraction, too violent, or too costly to support (Rice, 2006; Squire, 2006). Educational games often pale in comparison to their mass-market counterparts in design, graphics, and overall capabilities. While having students design games eliminates some of those factors (e.g., overt violence and bloodshed), game design software is not always easy to teach and learn. Time is a valuable resource in classrooms, and using instructional time to teach computer programming instead of content may be counterproductive. Therefore, my research has looked at “low-tech” game design projects using Microsoft PowerPoint. MS PowerPoint is presentation software, not a game design platform. However, it is ubiquitous in schools and requires little or no additional training (i.e., instructional time).
Based on the work I have done over the past four years, I plan to further refine and test the game design protocol to confirm whether or not these additional supports do lead to improved performance for students who create homemade PowerPoint games as a unit project. After my dissertation, I plan to have an initial set of principles for using game design as an instructional tool. As computer technology and software capabilities improve, it may be easier to use other programming languages in the classroom and not have to resort to MS PowerPoint. However, regardless of the vehicle used to create games, I plan to continue to research and refine the best practices for applying constructionist techniques for training and education.
Another line of research I am working to develop involves online learning at the K-12 level. While the research projects I have worked on in the past have involved the student perceptions on online learning and teacher training for online learning, I also have an interest in examining blended courses at the K-12 level. During the 2011-2012 school year, I piloted a hybrid course at the high school where I taught, where the course content was delivered online, while labs and discussions occurred in a face-to-face setting.